Like many people, I kept my expectations low going into Solo. I thought it was a movie that I wasn’t sure needed to exist, but the trailers looked pretty cool and I hoped to get a good Star Wars movie out of it. So when people asked me what I thought of the movie after watching it, I was surprised to realize that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It wasn’t like The Last Jedi, which needed a few viewings to process what was happening. Solo was pretty straightforward – I was sure that I liked it, but I wasn’t sure how much. I told a few people that I thought it was “just fine” but even as the words came out of my mouth, I thought that I was damning the movie by faint praise and that just didn’t seem right. The movie was different from the previous episodic films and even from Rogue One, but it wasn’t a bad movie. I liked it.
After a while, I realized that Solo felt a little different to me than other Star Wars movies. I would almost say less cinematic, except Solo is clearly a movie made by moviemakers conscious of cinema tradition in general (the movie has echoes of Lucas’s oeuvre, noir, crime dramas, etc.). But despite its cinematic trappings, it felt more like a season of TV or an Expanded Universe novel condensed down into two hours. This isn’t a negative – I like Star Wars TV and I like SW books, both Legends and canon. But something about the story – more than just assorted lore namedrops – reminded me of the type of Star Wars story telling that isn’t “necessary” (you don’t have to read every book) but tells us a little more about the Star Wars universe by providing texture and character. That’s what Solo is, I think – it’s a story that’s available if you want it, but not mandatory if you just don’t have any interest in the subject matter or era.
Spoilers beneath the cut! I’m avoiding major plot points on purpose, but I always advocate being as spoiler free as possible!
It’s Not For Everyone – And That’s OK
Here’s a key point I wanted to talk about at the beginning, and something that first made me think of the TV/book comparison. Solo might not be for everyone – for one thing, it’s as Force-less a Star Wars movie as we’ve ever gotten (even Rogue One had references to the Force). It’s also, as many people have said before, not strictly speaking a necessary story – you don’t HAVE to watch it. Truthfully speaking, nobody has to watch any movie – but the Episodic films (and even Rogue One to an extent) felt like fundamental chapters in the ongoing Star Wars saga, by design. You don’t have to see Solo if you don’t want to – if the idea of Han as a fully-formed character in A New Hope is what you prefer, you’re perfectly able to ignore this film. You’re able to ignore it in the same way that you could ignore the Tarkin novel, or The Clone Wars TV show: you won’t miss anything in A New Hope or in Revenge of the Sith if you didn’t engage with the later-developed backstories.
Solo gives us a blueprint for the rest of the anthology type films, especially if they start letting go of legacy movie characters like Leia, Vader, Han, or Lando. It presages an era of the truly optional Star Wars movie. You don’t have to worry about Star Wars movie fatigue if you don’t watch every single movie, just as some people don’t read every single book or comic or watch every show. Heck, I do this with the Marvel movies – I felt MCU fatigue long ago, and I decided to stick with the movies and characters that interested me and skip all the rest. The movies are general enough that you never really get lost. Star Wars is the same way.
There’s going to be a lot of discourse about this film – we’ve already seen reviews about how it’s empty action or how “Disney” is phoning it in. We’re also seeing positive reviews from folks who enjoy the low-stakes action, or the look at the underworld. To me, the answer is obvious: if Solo is a film for you, great. If it’s not, don’t worry about it. (That said, you’re free to watch it and dislike it too – if that’s what works for you.)
It’s All Connected And So Can You
The phrase “it’s all connected” often comes up to describe how Star Wars novels, comics, and TV shows reference each other and even show signs of parallel development, down to seeds in one medium being planted for storylines in another medium years later. We even see that in Solo – the use of Kessel in Star Wars Rebels something like four years ago foreshadows the mining colony’s exact appearance in 2018, even while the movie’s events take place half a decade before the television show.
This is what interests me about Solo, even more than the copious deep-cut EU references (though trust me, I loved those – my favorite must’ve been Teräs Käsi getting name-checked in a Star Wars movie, but “CEC” being mentioned without explanation is a close second). But it’s not about getting the references or catching the connections to Star Wars stories in other media that is most striking to me, but what it portends for continued Star Wars storytelling going forward.
Star Wars films will always occupy the field – Star Wars is first and foremost a cinematic franchise. That’s not going to change, and I don’t expect movies to be bound by other media. But – part and parcel of the a la carte approach to Star Wars I mentioned above is the idea that Star Wars movies can act as an entryway for more Star Wars fans to enter the wider Star Wars visual and publishing universe. Rogue One and The Last Jedi came with a plethora of tie-in materials for people wanting more of those stories to engage with, but Solo’s connections to West End Games, the old EU, Star Wars Rebels, or The Clone Wars is so much bigger. It’s no secret that I love the past tie-in products – the Catalyst novel probably ranks as my favorite Star Wars movie tie-in ever, while the Rogue One comic, novelization, and various guides were all lovely too. But while they’re gateways, they’re still gateways that are fundamentally tied to the film.
What if someone watched Solo, caught the random reference to Oseon, and learned that it came from a decades-old book series on Lando and decided to pick it up? It’s probably unlikely, but it could happen. More likely – what if someone googled the references to characters from The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and jumped into those programs as a result of this movie? Suddenly – Solo’s opening doors to engage with much more than just Han, Qi’ra, or Lando.
Vision of the Future, or Fluke?
By the nature of Lucasfilm products these days, a lot depends on the individual filmmakers. Their tastes, interests, and receptivity to engaging with the larger Star Wars universe is largely going to decide what the films include, regardless of Lucasfilm’s overall preferences. By some reports, the EU namedropping in Solo is largely due to Jon Kasdan. So it’s still difficult to say whether Solo’s an exception to the norm, or it’s the path forward. But I still think it’s fair to say that we should get used to the idea of a Star Wars film, like a lot of other ancillary Star Wars material, not necessarily being for everyone – and if anything, encourage the idea that Lucasfilm might broaden the scope of what it means to make a Star Wars movie even at risk of perhaps not having as broad an audience. At least somewhat – because let’s be real, mass audiences will still flock to see Star Wars films, just as they still flock to see Marvel movies.
It’s occurred to me that I spent a lot of time on this Solo piece not really talking about Solo. I probably need to see the film again to really figure out what I think of it, but like I said – the mere fact that I had to think about it is what led me down this path to begin with. But I’m looking forward to seeing industrial Coronet City again, trying to spot all the details of Dryden Vos’s fancy party guests, rooting for Qi’ra, and marveling at Lando’s cape closet. I wasn’t kidding when I said it reminded me of the EU, because I loved stories about regular people without lightsabers or galaxy-shattering wars. Rogue One was like my favorite EU books come to life and you know what – so was Solo.
And like my favorite EU stories, maybe it’ll be the launching pad for someone else’s story – Han was the price of entry, but he wasn’t the character I’m most interested in following. We may call these “standalone” films, but that doesn’t mean they can’t spawn different stories about different characters.